These are the notes for “ Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race.” The notes are from a paper by Madhavi Mallapragada, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.
Resist identifying South Asians as a knowable identity
Media produced by SA as well as media cultures that speak to them are major influences in web 2.0
Categorizes are informed by transnational sensibilities
What is the “Indian” being imagined in the construction of Indian American?
How is the web mobilized around categorizes and what are the politics around these identities.
Focusing on the term “Desi”
Derived from “desh” which means homeland
Term of self and community identification
2nd and 3rd gen youth often collectively identify as desi
While desi is a pan-South asian term, it often means Indian
In this video titled, “You are not an Indian,” a young male addresses viewers who like him are neither just American nor Indian but desi. Wearing a t-shirt with the word “desi” written prominently in Hindi across it, the young man points out that desis are not South Asians but of South Asia. People of South Asian origin in the United States commonly refer to each other as Desi. The term means “from the homeland” and simultaneously invokes one’s identity as South Asian but also as being “outside South Asia”. As the young man reminds his viewers, the difference is key. Being desi implies being critically engaged with the “realities” of India rather than uncritically celebrating the hype surrounding its contemporary global image as high-tech nation.
Video is important as it displays the process of reasserting identity against a current narrative – of reclaimation, of identification
The idea of desi is undergoing a renovation in South Asian community spaces
Desi is being articulated as brown racialized identity asserted against the American nation state
If you did not see the movie because you found the first H & K too sexist, I am here right now to tell you that you made the right choice because the second movie is even worse. (Though, you do get to see three different men breakdown over their respective lost loves and one of the biggest misogynists get their comeuppance.)
If you have not yet seen the movie, please do not read any further because here there be spoilers. Continue reading →
Do you remember when Vogue India hit the stands and Australian model Gemma Ward was front and center flanked by two presumably Indian models in what I like to call “the coveted Beyonce spot?” All I could do was laugh at how predictable that move was on the editors part.
In the months since that launch last year, Vogue India has featured a dazzling array of Bollywood actresses and models on the cover. It’s as if to say, “yeah, we thought the cover on that premiere issue was lame too but we fully intend to make up for it!”
Anytime I think about that launch I wonder if an African country will ever get its own Vogue. Maybe a Vogue Nigeria or a South African Vogue.
I’ve debated back and forth on message boards about who would be chosen for the imaginary inagural cover. Legendary Iman? Alek Wek? Liya? Oluchi? Gemma in a safari hat?
I read an article in The Times last week about Oluchi in which she was quoted as saying that top magazines in South Africa (like Glamour and GQ) refuse to put blacks on their covers. This in a country that is 79% black.
“As a Nigerian and an African I have done so much in my career to represent everything African in Western countries. There is a diverse group of people in South Africa, be it black, white, Asian. …If you pick up Vogue India everything about it, from the first page to the last, is very Indian…I would like to see that in South Africa. They [magazines] need to embrace diversity and show more love …It doesn’t give me joy to pick up a copy of South African GQ and feel like I’m reading American GQ.”
This saddens me. I recall seeing the cover of South African ELLE once with a dark skinned woman on the cover and for months I tried to find an issue at various newsstands only to come up empty. I was dying to know if the cover I saw was an anomoly. So far, I’m not willing to pony up the $90 or so for a subscription to find out.
Back to my magazine fantasy…I picture two covers. The first one featuring a mix of models from all over the continent with Iman or Liya Kebede, Alek Wek or Ajuma to show the very different types of African beauty. My second thought has editors mixing it up a bit more with the likes of a Jourdan Dunn, Emanuela dePaula, Chanel Iman, Chrystelle Saint-Louis Augustin, or Damaris Lewis to illustrate how there isn’t a corner of the world that hasn’t been touched by this so called dark continent’s beauty and influence.
Seriously, I could ponder this for hours. I am so much more satisfied by made up magazines than by their real conterparts. Maybe there’s an editor out there dreaming of this launch too, and of Gemma Ward posing on an elephant for the cover.
It was just Thursday when we wondered why fashion designers and editors don’t seem to be able to use models of color without exoticizing/exploiting their race or culture. And last summer, we discussed Vogue’s obsession with romanticizing colonized Africa and Asia.
Folks at Hermes must have been reading closely because they managed to squeeze both blunders into a single ad campaign.
Check out their new ads, featuring desi model Lakshmi Menon. And lo and behold, what else appears in the ads? Elephants! With colorful henna-esque tattoos! And jodhpurs! Lest we forget the glorious days of British colonial rule in India!
A few weeks ago, while walking along the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a well-known strip for the burgeoning fashionista or the credit card terrorist, I stopped dead in my tracks. Though normally oblivious to any movement around me on the streets near my office, especially as most of the foot traffic in midtown is comprised of the steps of awed tourists or jaded ladies who lunch, the one story-tall photo to my right as I approached the corner of 49th street compelled me to give pause. I had been rendered still by the image of a South Asian-American man dressed in red, black, and white wearing a turban. His right hand lifted to adjust his sunglasses in cool indifference, the handsome face was an unusual one—at least to be seen on an advertisement on Fifth Avenue.
Upon closer inspection, I learned the name of the bearer of these model good looks. “SONNY CABERWAL,” the sign read, “PRACTICING SIKH AND ENTREPRENEUR SPEAKING OUT AGAINST RACIAL PROFILING.” Caberwal, the North Carolina-born Duke University and Georgetown Law graduate and owner of Tavalon Tea Bar in New York City, was part of Kenneth Cole’s new campaign “We All Walk in Different Shoes.”
Cole, a New York based fashion designer known for his humanitarian efforts and philanthropy, was the first member of the fashion community to enlist in the global fight against HIV/AIDS in 1985, a time when little was known about the virus and even less was known about the people struggling to survive it. Cole decided to base his current campaign on the motto “25 years of non-uniform thinking” and what has become his most famous mantra:
“What you stand for is more important than what you stand in. To be aware is more important than what you wear.”
Via the Kenneth Cole website, one can learn about the individual participants in the campaign, all activists in their own right, ranging from the stories of partners – one a married lesbian couple, another a film-making duo comprised of an Israeli and a Palestinian—to the powerful stories of individuals, including those of Caberwal, whom I mentioned previously, Regan Hoffman, the HIV+ Editor-in-Chief of POZ Magazine, Aimee Mullins, Paralympic athlete and actor, and Patrick Sammon, the President of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group for conservative gays and lesbians. The real-life models for this campaign are of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, levels of physical ability, sexual orientations, and political leanings, but exist as evidence that anyone can look good in Kenneth Cole.
Though cynics could easily argue that this is simply an attempt by the Kenneth Cole label team to garner attention for their wares, the campaign takes the fashion industry a few steps ahead, primarily because it not only lends itself to encouraging activism and social progress, but also because it blatantly acknowledges that one can receive attention for a clothing or accessories line without relying solely upon an emaciated and predominately white fleet of models. I stopped in my tracks that day on Fifth Avenue because I was so shocked to see an Asian-American male involved in a fashion ad, but I still noticed the clothes. Despite what seems to be a popular belief in the fashion industry, his tan skin did not take attention away from the impact of the colors and fabrics upon it. Nor did Delmon Dunston’s wheelchair distract me from noticing his electric blue sleeveless shirt. In fact, his wheelchair, with its silver and black casing, allowed for a more dynamic color contrast. The clothing and accessories were enhanced by the models Cole’s team had chosen.
So as thousands of designers and modeling agencies around the globe continue to reject models of color, of size, or of varied physical abilities, Cole has provided his buying audience, or even those who just stop to admire the advertisements as art pieces, the opportunity to judge beauty for themselves.
To read more about the models chosen for this campaign, please click here.
Research. It always gets you into trouble. This review was supposed to say “Empowering! Feminist! Realism! Actually Tough Women of Colour!”. But then I did a little googling, (damn you google!) and now I’m confused.
The movie Bandit Queen is based on the story of the real life Phoolan Devi. In the 80’s in India, Devi led groups of bandits to pillage high caste villages for money. She was notorious and fearsome, and this was a big, shocking, deal – not only was she a woman, she was a low caste woman.
A kind of Robin Hood with a gender twist: at 11 Devi was married to a 30-something man who raped and mistreated her. As an adult she found him and stabbed him in front of his village, as a warning for old men who marry young girls.
Devi was always described to me as a hero for poor people and women. Separate from who she actually was, Devi became a legend and a symbol of the one woman who just wasn’t going to take it anymore. She was tough shit! She was brutalised, pushed around and dehumanised by patriarchal culture (more on that later) – but she actually pushed back!
So a movie about the life of this feminist hero – ok, the violence she committed makes her a problematic feminist hero – would definitely be a feminist movie wouldn’t you say? Well, this is where the confusion kicks in.
What I liked most about this movie was how it is such an unflinching, unsentimental portrayal of life for women in a patriarchal culture. The violence against women in Bandit Queen is essentially constant and blatant (I didn’t say it was a fun movie to watch), but that amazed me. Because the movie seems to be saying, look, it’s not just that some men are bad apples, and it’s not just that women will experience gender violence once in their lives. It’s that under a patriarchal system the threat of violence and the incidence of violence against women is constant and total.
For example, often “rapists” and “wife beaters” in North American cinema are portrayed as dirty, creepy, foul-smelling and poor. The men who assualt Devi in Bandit Queen however, are just regular, average men. This seemed to say to me that, it’s not just lower income men who don’t wash their shirts who are capable of violence, it’s all men who’ve been socialised by rampant sexism.
BUT, that’s exactly the problem with Bandit Queen: the constant gender violence. Arundhati Roy argues here and here that Bandit Queen reduces Devi to a rape victim, and is just two hours of rape, rape and more rape. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World